Ironman Canada 1998 - Part 11

Walking a marathon takes a long time. But somehow, this doesn't matter. I have no ambitions for myself in this endeavor, nothing to prove and nothing to lose. What matters, here and now, is doing whatever I can to help Rebecca complete her first Ironman. Along the way, I want to help anyone else I can.

I can think of no better way to spend a late afternoon and evening.

At some points it occurs to me that I might look a bit of an ass, chattering away like a happy magpie to Rebecca, cheering other racers on, joking boisterously with volunteers and spectators. I have energy to burn because I'm no longer racing. As hard as I was going earlier in the day, I've been lucky in escaping the ravages of dehydration and gastro-intestinal distress plaguing so many. Now I revel in the luxury of eating and drinking at a stately walk and make sure Rebecca does the same, when she can stomach it. Bottom line: It's almost disgraceful to feel so good in the face of so much suffering!

As we pass the 10-mile marker, I remark, "All right, just 5k to the turnaround! Piece of cake."
"How do you do it? How do you keep so positive?" asks Rebecca.
This takes me by surprise; I never really thought about it before.

"Well, it's all in how you look at it. You know, if you think of the whole marathon as 26.2 miles, you're gonna be in trouble. So you just think of where you are at the moment, and break it down into little pieces. Give yourself credit for the little victories, as far as you've gotten. Like, at 6 miles, you can tell yourself, 'All right, done with the first 10k!' At 7 you think, 'Cool, I'm past halfway to the turnaround.' And so forth and so on.

"I remember last year especially that at 16 miles I was excited because I was entering The Great Unknown; I'd never run more than 16 miles in my life. It's all just a question of looking for different ways of viewing what you've done and what you have left to do, as opposed to just thinking of the whole thing as one enormous 26-mile chunk. That's too overwhelming."

My feet squish comically inside my running shoes. I can't believe how wet they are, and yet they're not blistering. Wonder how much longer they'll hold up?

Rebecca tells me about her first couple of races, and about how she met Adam. She's worried because we haven't seen him yet, and he should have been by long since. At last, at an aid station somewhere between 11 and 12 miles out, we find Adam. He's had a tough time of it, and has been camped out at this aid station for well over an hour. When his race goals for the day fell apart he decided to rest a while and wait for Rebecca. A bit dejected, he figured he could walk a bit with us, but was pretty sure he wouldn't finish.

A little encouragement from the people you love can make a big difference.

The three of us walk and jog a little ways together. At the next aid station Rebecca heads for the portajohn. I wait for her, but Adam is feeling better and continues on. Several minutes later when we're nearly to the turnaround he passes by going the other way, calling out, "I'm gonna try to walk 5 minutes and jog 5 minutes, I think I'll make it. See you guys at the finish!"

Ah, rejuvenation!

For Rebecca and me, it's not much farther to the turnaround now. "And," I tell her buoyantly, "the sun is getting lower behind the mountains, so it should cool down a lot soon."

"Thank god!" she replies.

The heat's been tough on her today, as it has on so many others. She's been drinking pretty steadily and hitting the portajohns regularly, but she's bloated and uncomfortable, can't eat a whole lot. Consequently, she just doesn't have the energy to move too fast.

We see friends running by on their way home and cheer them on. The turnaround can't come soon enough! "Wow!" I marvel. "I don't remember this big hill before the turnaround. The things you remember...or suppress."

At last, the turnaround station! Volunteers scurry to find our special needs bags, crying out our numbers as we approach. "No need, no need!" I call to them. "I don't have one, don't bother!" Funny, I had never intended to get this far; who would have guessed (besides Skippy, that is)? But I don't need anything, I'm doing just fine, thank you. However, it's unfortunate that Rebecca has no bag waiting for her with a long-sleeved shirt of some sort; now that the sun is finally retiring from the field, she's beginning to feel a chill.

We round that lovely marker, the turnaround! Rebecca and I each hit the portajohns, and when we emerge the volunteers come through once again. Someone else's abandoned sweatshirt finds its way to Rebecca's shoulders. Thank you, thank you! I dance a little jig in celebration: Halfway done, and Rebecca won't freeze on the return trip! Life is good.

But first we face a potential Waterloo. I pause to speak with Bev, who had recovered from her earlier dizziness and run past us some way back. Now, assailed once more by nausea and dizziness, she sits crosslegged on the ground trying to rally her forces to continue. I squat to speak with her, and Rebecca sits too. Big mistake.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Rebecca and Bev both finally haul themselves upright, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I was afraid I'd lost both of them there! The three of us begin a jaunty walk back to town. Just 13.1 miles to go! No problem, we can do this!

As we leave the turnaround area behind, I see Jane Fratesi heading toward it. "Ah, there you are, Shadetree!" I call out to her. "Won't be long now, you'll be whipping on by my sorry tail any minute. Looking good, you go, girl!"

Actually, Jane looks a little whipped herself. But she's doing it, she's still moving, and I'm happy to see her out here. She should have no trouble getting in under 15 hours.

Meanwhile our little group has increased by one. A happy young fellow named Ethan (I think it was Ethan---it began with an "E", anyway) shares the contents of his special needs bag, which include gummy bears--yum! The mutual support and camaraderie of Ironman shines forth yet again. Those gummy bears were just the thing. We laugh and trade horror stories of the day, and speculate upon how long it'll take us to get back in. Heck, who cares how long it takes, this is all an adventure!

It gradually becomes clear, though, that Ethan and Bev are feeling much better than Rebecca, and eventually they powerwalk away.

Rebecca is fighting hard. And I'm fighting just as hard to keep her going. I babble on about all manner of inane things, and make sure to point out the little victories of each mile marker passed, each uphill conquered, each doubt overcome.

"You can do it, no problem. Just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other. Can you jog down this hill here? There you go, that got us a bit further, good job!"

At one of the aid stations they had been celebrating a volunteer's birthday, and they share some of the birthday cake with us. I break into a chorus of "Happy Birthday," grinning as I wipe frosting from my chin.

This is so funny! It's absolutely the antithesis of "racing". It's more like experiencing. Could a PR be any more rewarding? I wonder.

Somewhere, I can't recall exactly where, perhaps sixteen miles out, perhaps seventeen, we spy a tall blonde figure approaching in the gathering dusk, and strain to see if it could possibly it? It couldn't be! We had been speculating not so very long ago on the likelihood that he had dropped out---on such a tough day, with so little training under his belt, he MUST have dropped out. It couldn't it?

It IS!

"Jason! Jason!" we cry joyfully.

Sure enough, there he is, powerwalking in a desperate, no-nonsense sort of way alongside another determined-looking athlete. I cross the road and throw myself shamelessly upon the poor boy, but he shakes me off apologetically, explaining shortly, "Can't stop to talk, we'll never get moving again, no time to waste. See you at the finish."


"They've got a long way to go," Rebecca remarks.
"God, I know. I wonder if they'll make it. I can't believe Jason's still going! He must be having one helluva day."
"I'd have quit by now if I still had that far to go."
"You know, I think I might have too. I remember last year seeing people still on their way out at this point, and thinking there was no way I could keep going if I was that far back so late. That is *really* tough, takes real guts to keep on moving."
"It's hard enough up here!"
"Yeah, but that ought to make you feel better! Look how far ahead you are," I laugh.
"That's true," Rebecca smiles hopefully.

We move on. Jogging is no longer even an option. Rebecca now dances on the razor's edge, balancing precipitously just this side of upright and ambulatory. Dizziness and nausea make each step a battle. At each aid station we linger just a little longer, a little longer still. I wonder if I can keep her going; how much should I push? How physically depleted is she? Is it more mental than physical? Under TriBaby's watchful eye, she's continued to drink and to use the blue boxes regularly, so I'm pretty sure she's not suffering severe dehydration. It seems more like a bonk. It's been tough for her to take in food, the nausea and bloating simply too much.

We trudge on in the gathering darkness. Ambulances continue to speed past every now and again, their headlights cutting jaggedly into the gloom, reminding us that many out here are suffering even more greatly.

"Well, what I want to know is, when the heck do we get our glowsticks? I've worked hard for it, and I want my glowstick now, dammit!"

It's probably about 8:45 pm. At an aid station around 18 miles we take on chicken soup, water, a few cookies. And glowsticks! I am happy. But only one apiece? Bummer. I wanted to be lit up like a Christmas tree. I hide my disappointment as best I can, and we head out into the darkness, bound for mile 19.

I remember that somewhere between miles 18 and 19 Jane passed us. I remember that Gerry Kuse passed us. And I remember seeing our friend Heather, with whom we had walked way back around mile 6, passing us looking absolutely deathly. And Rebecca was slowing. She was hurting, not saying much, trying so hard to just hang on.

The mile 19 aid station. 133.4 miles (or thereabouts), and one more Ironman dream struggles, gasps, quivers, and finally falls still and silent, conceding to the rigors of a brutal day.

Rebecca cries just a little. "It's ok, it's ok," I assure her. "You did fantastically! You have to remember, this is not an ordinary Ironman. This was positively hellish. And you are definitely making the right decision. I'd much rather that you quit now while you're still basically physically ok than that you choose to go on and push yourself to the point where you do some actual physical damage to yourself. If you did that you would simply end up hating the entire Ironman experience, and you'd never want to give it a try again. It's much better this way, you're being smart."

"I know, I's just..."

"It's ok. Don't worry. Only, there's one catch," I kid her gently. "If you quit now, you are required to hand over your glowstick. If I have to run in the last part alone, I've gotta have two glowsticks to keep me safe."

Rebecca smiles a tiny smile through fatigue and disappointment and sheer numbness, and hands me her glowstick. I give her a hug.

"You did marvellously, and I'm proud of you. Now I'm going to head on in and finish this for both of us, and I don't want you to sit here kicking yourself for calling it a day, ok? Promise me you won't?"
"I won't."
"OK. You'll take good care of her, won't you?" I ask the wonderful volunteer comforting her.
"Absolutely!" he replies.
"OK, I'm outta here. I'll see you back on Lakeshore, Rebecca. Heck, you'll probably beat me back there now! See you soon."

Glowsticks humming their gentle phosphorescence from each hand, I plunge into the night, heading for home. I begin to run. It feels so good after walking so long.

I feel so badly for Rebecca; I had wanted so very much to share in the joy of her first Ironman finish, to have helped her get there and achieve that indescribable high, just as Augie had helped me in my first Ironman. But I know it really was the best decision for her to call it a day before she pushed herself too far. It was the smartest thing to do.

But now I've got 7 more miles to run. Let's finish this thing up! As I shake my limbs back into run mode after miles of walking, I realize I've got energy to burn. The evening air feels wonderful---still warm, but deliciously so, not oppressive. A 3/4 moon shines pale yellow over the lake, and the stars twinkle happily in the blackness above. Lights dot the hills across the lake, and far in the distance ahead are the lights of Penticton itself. Miles to go before we sleep. But I feel good. It's been a long day, and it's time to bring it to a close. I can't help but smile---it's gorgeous out here. The fast folks don't get to see this. Almost without thinking, I let out a Whoohoooo!

I'm heading for home.

Continue on to Part 12...